fond thoughts of Sixteen String Jack

22 Eleasias 1373

It just took an instant for the darkness to fall over me, and in that instant of fear and impending doom my mind naturally turned to what it meant if my companions and I failed on this quest:

Invasion from the Shadow Plane.

The destruction of the Weave.

The Triumph of Evil.

No more Gilmour’s Gilded Green-Apple Ale at Sixteen String Jack’s.

jack1.jpgOddly, of the four, the last seemed by far the most important at that particular moment. Of course, anyone who has ever drunk that wondrous ambrosia at Waterdeep’s most famous (and, indeed, only) hin public house may have an inkling of why that is so, particularly if they’ve ever had it with a warm, fresh slice of halfling barleybread and some of cousin Ned’s Brandythwaite cheese. For anyone who knows the barmaids at the Sixteen String Jack (and particularly the charming young Missy Rubytoes), my thoughts will be particularly understandable.

At the moment all went black, of course, I had no idea exactly what had transpired. I did know that it was unlikely to be good. After slaying the vrock, our exploration of this abandoned dwarven mine had yielded precious little in the way of treasure, beyond one odd and faintly magical necklace of bird bones. Instead, my companions and I had been treated to a pile of rotting corpses, a huge black amorphous blob that seemed intend on eating Ash and Hedge, ghouls, zombies-on-a-chain (much less enjoyable than the children’s game of the same name), and even a six-legged lizard that I was warned not to gaze upon too long. The one chest that we found contained—despite its ornate and complex lock—not fabulous gems or piles of gold, but rather a fearsome and incorporeal wraith with the unfortunate habit of attacking from floors, walls, and ceilings. This was clearly most unfair, especially for a hin like myself with expenses to cover. Alchemists’ fire doesn’t come cheap, Shen’s constant lectures on the “corruption of wealth” and the “dangers of opening strange boxes” notwithstanding.

Finally our party had moved against what appeared to be the enemy’s lair. Ashton was unable to pierce the conjured darkness, but Tip’s artful magicks finally succeeded in dispelling the black. We had advanced carefully into what appeared to be a large room filled with lead or iron boxes of unfamiliar design. The clawing noises coming from within these suggested some sort of angry beast, a supposition that none of us was eager to confirm after the fight with the dread wraith. Indeed, by this time Ashton and Tip were largely drained of spells both clerical and arcane, and we had much debated whether we should rest before pressing on this far. However, the risk of letting our enemies recover, regroup and prepare for us seemed too great–so here we were.

As we moved cautiously into the center of the room, Hedge carefully checked our path for traps. Tip then used his wand to reveal any concealed doors–and soon found one on the southern wall of the chamber. I walked towards it, rather incautiously as it turned out—for as I approached, I set off a trap. Our party was assaulted by a shriek, a wail, and a powerful blast of sound that penetrated to the very bone. Whatever element of surprise we might have had was now lost due to my foolishness.

No sooner had we regained our composure when a most ominous sound of stone against stone. I dove behind one of the metal boxes, and had only just voiced the command to render myself invisible when the door burst open and two huge living statues of Shar stomped into the room, their stoney visages hardly concealing their murderous intent.

We fought them as best we could, but only Hedge really had a weapon that could much pierce these fearsome golems of rock. Shen, showing extents of courage that I’ll never know, fought one of the constructs hand-to-hand. Yet his fists and feet were barely able to chip its smooth stone surface.

As the battle went badly against us, she appeared—Mayzine. It was in search of this agent of evil that we had entered this deep, dark place, hoping thereby to disrupt the shadow-plot and learn of any antidote that might save Hedge’s brother Pern.

Seeing a possible vulnerability, the indefatigable monk tripped one of the golems, sending it crashing to the floor. He then vaulted over its prone form, and struck Mayzine with all his considerable might.

FWAP!

Nothing happened.

Well, as Uncle Reggie was wont to say, that’s not strictly true. Mayzine did react.. turning her head slightly, and smiling at the surprised monk. She then did something even more disconcerting: as whisps of shadow surrounded her, she transformed. Not into a small puppy, of course, or kitten or anything else welcome and unthreatening. No, she transformed into a dragon: a huge, sleek, evil dragon, dark as the Shadow itself.

Faster than a badger in a bad place, I ran.

So too did everyone else, hoping that the low corridors the area would slow or halt the pursuit of Mayzine and her stone guardians behind us. We ran, as fast as our feet would bear us, towards the bottom of the mine shaft, praying that we might, somehow—however improbably—escape this place. First Shen, then Ashton and Tip, passed me by at their much faster paces. My heart sank, realizing that my ring shielded me from their gaze, and that my companions had no idea they were leaving me behind to become a dragon-snack…

CRACK! A fierce blue light erupted ahead at the bottom of the mine shaft, as Mayzine magicked herself there to block our very exit. Suddenly my invisibility and slow pace seemed much less of a liability than it had scant seconds before.

I remember old Grandpa Erk once saying “always be ye were the trolls isn’t, and the golds is.” He had never applied the saying to dragons of any sort (let alone agents of evil from the Plane of Shadow), and I had yet to see any treasure of any sort on this accursed adventure. Still, it seemed prudent advice. I stopped in my tracks, and slowly, quietly, and invisibly headed back the way I had just come.

Behind me I could hear sounds—undoubtedly screams of pain as my friends were devoured (or so I thought). There was little I could do. Either they were dead, or captured. Either way, the thoughts of me joining them as meal or captive scarcely appealed, certainly much less so than rescuing them at a more opportune moment or simply staying alive. As we hin say, “fortune favours the not-dead.”

As silently as I could, I crept back to the chamber from whence Mayzine and the golems had come. There I found an altar, a bloodied body upon it, and a huge, pitch-black symbol of Shar (a portal, perhaps?) behind. Despite the golem-statues now motionlessly flanking the altar, I crept still closer.. hoping for a clue, a way to destroy the portal, an escape route, or perhaps even a cask of ale with which to relieve the pain of my possibly approaching death. Even that suspicious Snakebite stuff would have been welcome at this moment.

A quick search revealed a hidden compartment in the altar… but just then my concentration was broken by the unmistakable creak of a door being opened nearby. The golems heard it too, and lumbered off to investigate, their heavy stone feet making the very ground rumble with each step. Clearly it was no one they were expecting.

Hedge! Could it be Hedge? I hadn’t seen him running with the others–no doubt he too had activated his ring and sought advantage by stealth. With his brother’s life in the balance, he had even more reason to come back this way, in the hopes of finding a cure to the Shadow Death. Perhaps he would save us all, as he had in the desert temple! Hedge, the hero! Hedge, the…

Then darkness. Nothingness. And thoughts of ale, barmaids, and Sixteen String Jack.

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tripping evil

22 Eleasias 1373

Note to self: given a choice between a room full of evil thugs, and an angry demon, go for the former. They trip. Demons don’t.

After Ashton’s misadventures at the Wildlands Rest, we decided to press on the town of Deadsnows on the northern flanks of the Nether Mountains. From a spellcaster’s unsent communications found earlier we had learned that, somewhere near there, an evil agent named Mayzine was building a temple to Sher.

Our complex plan emerged after much discussion within our group, but was essentially this: We would bait a trap with a body of a dead Shadowvar, and a portion of the note to Mayzine that we had captured earlier. When her agents came to investigate, we would ambush or trail them, until they led us to what we wanted to know.

It seemed to go smoothly enough. In the guise of “Roger Rodkin,” I reported the body to Captain Mannock of the Deadsnows guard. A few days later, the proprietor of a dubious ale shack in the Snowtown slum (an evil looking half orc named Vandar) came to investigate the location that we had baited, together with his thugs. We followed them back to the beer hall, and, fearing that we had spotted, mounted a quick but covert assault upon the establishment. I must admit it took me some time to convince my companions of the covert part, and the need to neither draw attention nor annoy the local constabulary. Clearly wanted local felons Ash and Hedge have had rather fewer brushes with the law than I.

Once inside, Tip’s magicks soon uncovered a secret passage, leading beneath the shack and ultimately to a dark and bloody temple. There, in the crowded chamber deep below the shantytown above, we were assulted by Vandar and half dozen of his spies and henchmen.

And what a glorious brawl it was! Hedge and I quickly and invisibly took our positions. Shen charged in, and as he did I tripped no fewer than four of the scoundrels with few quick flicks of Uncle Reggie’s beloved stone. The monk tumbled across the room to assault Vandar’s bodyguards, while Hedge quickly held his blade to the half-orcs neck. More thugs fell to my skipping. Quicker than you could recount the tale of Quacky Befuddle and the Highly Trained Ducks of Barleybridge, we had captured our target and slain his henchmen.

We soon realized that Vandar was indeed an evil cleric–but of Cyric, not of Sher. Whether this portends an evil alliance between the Dark Sun and the Lady of Loss, I cannot tell. However, vanquishing the evil cultists was clearly to our gain. Equally satisfactory was the quiet way we did this. “Roger” had a few words with Captain Mannock to direct his guards to the scene, but aside from this stalwart officer no one really knows of our involvement. Mannock himself has offered to put in a good word with his liege, Lady Icespear, a commitment that may yet prove most useful.

Thereafter, we took the bound and gagged Vandar to the nearby dwarven Hospice of of Morthammor. The clerics of Marthammor Duin had been seeking information on the recent murder of a dwarven prospector, Bromgart Ironheart, and we suspected a connection. It seems that Bromgart had been exploring an ancient dwarven mine, which in turn was likely the same mine mentioned in the captured note to Mayzine. We vowed to investigate further. I hope that we gained some favour among these honest and hard-working dwarves–one day soon we may credit friends more than gold as political and religious intrigues unfold.

(I didn’t mention it, but I knew a Shorgar Ironheart once.. he’s probably still wondering where his purse went).

After a night of very good rest, we set off for the mine. There, a greasy winch soon linked Vandar to this place. We descended down the main shaft, with Trip setting off a fire trap en route. This in turn alerted some of those beneath, and we were assaulted in turn by undead, an acolyte, and dark monks.

Ash held back the ghouls, Tip entangled the monks, and Shen made short work of both. The acolyte might have escape to tell of our presence had Hedge not felled him with shots from his crossbow. (Hedge shot me too, but I like to think that it was an accident. He’s a good fellow.. just a bit over-eager with the trigger.)

And then It came. It was most definitely an It, and not an it: a horrific, scaled, vulture-like demon. I had the fortunate good sense to bide my grandmothers oft-repeated advice: “if what’s a-coming sounds big and angry, then be small and hid.. leave it to the tall folk to be brave, for they make piss-poor ale anyways.” Of course, I had no desire to sacrifice my friends and companions, whatever their poor beer-brewing abilities.. but I was equally happy to be crouched, quiet and invisible, against a rough stone wall when the demon beset us.

A “Vrock” is what Tip later called the thing. That makes sense, because for a while there I thought were were all truly vrocked.

It was quite the fight. Shen pounded it mercilessly with his fists and feet, in perfect harmony with Hedge’s crossbow and Ash’s much needed healing spells. Tip did the best he could with magicks. In this fight, hiding and throwing rocks could do little given the foul creature’s resistance to my blows, although I did manage to shear from it a half dozen of its mirrored disguises. Finally, when it seemed much weakened by Shen’s martial arts, I aimed one careful shot at its foul head and dropped the beast to the ground. I claim no credit for this, however: mine was merely the smallest but final blow.

And so we press on. If more of Mayzine’s minions await us–and I’m sure they do–I very much hope they’re two-legged, not too big, and standing very, very close to each other. Then I can show them what a skiprock can do.